Firm determination. French urbanist Nicolas Bouchot — about changes in Moscow, similarities with Paris and climate strategy

January 3
Municipal services

In 2021, the problem of the COVID-19 pandemic came to the fore for the whole mankind. However, environmental issues did not loose their relevance. Experts are convinced that even in such a difficult period, it is necessary to think about the transformation of cities, aimed both at creating a comfortable living environment and reducing the impact on climate.

Nicolas Bouchot, urbanist, researcher and president of the Greater Paris alliance for the development of metropolises was interviewed by to speak about how Moscow is similar to the French capital, how its residents can influence the development of the city and why everyone will soon have to solve the problems caused by global warming.

Photo by Yulia Ivanko,

— You have already been to Russia several times. In your opinion, what experience can Moscow share in protecting environment and improving the environmental situation?

— Moscow not only changed the approach to waste disposal and wastewater treatment, but also totally rebuilt and reorganized public spaces, paid attention to the greening of the city. Here I see similarities with the Haussmannization of Paris in the 19th century [the reorganization of the city structure directed by Eugene Haussmann. — Editorial comment] only on the scaled of the 21st century. It's just unbelievable.

I remember that 10 years ago people complained about poor organization of garbage collection. The situation has undoubtedly changed. The same applies to public transport. The better the infrastructure of urban transport is developed, the fewer cars are everywhere, fewer public areas are occupied by parking lots. Of course, the background of it is firm commitment to the concept of green and blue infrastructure. It is also important that the basic infrastructure, for example, sewage system, is being transformed here. If the city is beautiful only in its centre, and all the dirt is drained in the suburbs, nothing good will come of it.

I worked with municipal authorities of several cities, including at the international level with Urban20 (G20 group of cities). And the Russian capital has always been distinguished by a firm determination to develop. Interestingly enough, Moscow is located sort of at the junction of the developed world and developed cities with cities of developing countries (for example, Istanbul). The experience of Moscow can be applied even in those cities that are just beginning to transform and introduce new services in difficult conditions.

— Is it possible to compare the Moscow experience with Greater Paris?

— In Paris, we had a slightly similar situation with Moscow 10-15 years ago. Then there was also an understanding that it was necessary to change the city system in accordance with the conditions of competition and attractiveness of the 21st century and to revise the legacy of the past decades — the public transport system.

In Paris, one of the main factors of transformation was also the environment. Many of the changes were related to the necessity to switch to urban systems with low carbon dioxide emissions. 10 year after something was successfully implemented. For example, large research clusters were created, a metro was constructed and a ring system of public transport was built. However, the new metro system remains institutionally extremely complicated.

We also have a number of organizations, for example, dealing with waste management, that are cooperating with Moscow and with Russia. Large funds are also invested in modernizing water supply infrastructure. However, here the system is slightly different, but the problems are very similar. It is always very interesting how knowledge and experience are exchanged, especially between Moscow and Paris.

— To what extent are modern cities ready to create a climate strategy (to reduce greenhouse gas emissions), in particular Moscow?

— Moscow demonstrated a real ability to be transformed, and what is more important, on a large scale and not only in the very centre of the city. This suggests that the Russian capital may change in the next decade. After all, no one is really ready to face serious climate changes that are visible now.

In the next decade, cities should be even more resilient to extreme climate impacts, look for ways to reduce carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions (if global warming continues at the same pace), and limit the impact of the construction industry or the digital sphere.

These are not new problems, only the intensity of shocks and the scale of necessary transformations changed. Cooperation between cities and within cities can help find new solutions. They can be offered by experts, researchers, scientists, heads of states and cities, and even residents themselves.

Photo by Maxim Denisov,

— How can businesses and citizens be involved in the creation of a climate strategy?

— If you do not involve citizens or businesses, you will get a formal climate conservation strategy that will not be implemented. But how to do it is another question. Is it possible in a 30-50 million people megalopolis? This is a serious challenge, but we have a unique example of Tokyo, that somehow manages to do it.

There are many ways for people to participate in determining the future, including such events as the Moscow Urban Forum.

For example, 10 years ago we could not come to an agreement on which metro system to use in Paris — the initial or simplified. In the end, state and many private companies sat down at one table and decided to organize public debates, broad consultations involving the public and under the national authorities control. It was lasting three months.

There were many meetings, tens of thousands of citizens attended public hearings. And finally we came to a consensus. It proved so resilient that survived everything that has happened over the past 10 years: government changes at the national, local and municipal levels, the pandemic, terrorist attacks and the 2021 Football Championship. Now investments were allocated and the construction is underway. This is a huge project worth almost 40 billion euros.

Photo by Yevgeny Samarin,

— Have climate issues taken a back seat because of the pandemic?

— No, unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic became another problem to be solved. Another pandemic may begin, and the problems of global warming are becoming gradually noticeable everywhere right now. I believe that in the coming weeks, months and years, a lot of energy will be required from everyone to solve them personally and jointly. The only thing that official bodies can do is support people's energy.


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